Thursday, 3 July 2014

Free State Festival

I wasn't even aware of this festival before now. Apparently it used to be a film only festival but this year they made it more of a general arts festival, but still with a focus on films. The only film I really knew about and was interested in was the Nick Cave documentary feature - 20,000 Days on Earth. I also saw Manhattan listed as one of the films to be screened and assumed it was the famous Woody Allen film (turned out to be a film set in Manhattan, KS - which is ironic as anyone who knows me irl would know). So with two films I really wanted to see, and some others that sounded promising, I took the plunge and got myself a movie pass well in advance. Then I promptly fell sick the week before the fest.

Still, I wasn't going to waste my pass. Plus being cooped up at home all day only made me more eager to get out and do something fun in the evenings (probably not the wisest decision). So I managed to catch quite a few of the films, though far fewer than I meant and wanted to. Here, then, is a round up of the ones I did watch:

Johnny Winter: Down & Dirty - About the (apparently legendary) eponymous blues musician. I'd never even heard about this man before and my familiarity with blues music is very minimal, but this documentary held my interest all the same. And it made me resolve to get more into blues. A resolution that faded some the day after, but still. Really enjoyed the free concert that he and his band played right after too. The man is 70 years old but still plays incredibly and sings too. I was glad I got the chance to see him live.

Every Everything: The Music, Life & Times of Grant Hart - This one's about Grant Hart of Hüsker Dü fame. I had at least heard of the band, if not about the man himself. Punk is again not at the top of my list of favourite genres, so I'd never actually listened to anything by Hüsker Dü. Very good docu with an interesting structure, and really cool idea for bookends for the scenes. In the Q&A after it came out that Grant Hart himself came up with the idea for the sequence they used for the latter. He was a fascinating character, and still makes good music, some of which he played with some local musicians later that night.

American Interior - This probably doesn't count as music documentary per se. It's maybe more a musical documentary, in that it's a documentary with music used like in a musical film. It's made by Gruff Rhys, the Super Furry Animals dude, and it's about one his Welsh ancestors who came to the US back in the 18th century looking for a Welsh-speaking Native American tribe. It starts out as ridiculous as it sounds, but then the tone shifts halfway through. The wry sense of humour remained throughout and yet it highlighted some serious issues as well. Really enjoyed this one, and highly recommend it.

The Story of Children and Film - Quite possibly my favourite part of the whole fest. A documentary about children in film, with clips from a wide range of movies from around the world. I don't even like children, but I really enjoyed this film. The narrator/maker is apparently a well-known critic from Scotland. I loved his exposition and choice of scenes/movies. Made me want to watch every single movie that was featured. I mean to hunt down a list of these and do just that.

Trap Street - A Chinese film based in contemporary China. Really good movie. Eye-opening even though we all theoretically know what it's like over there. But that aside, it's just a really good movie, with great performances, absorbing plot and an interesting visual style. The producer was there for a Q&A after the screening and he wasn't sure if there would be a wide release. But, if it does happen to play near you, I highly recommend checking it out.

I Put a Hit on You - A dark comedy about a woman who has to team up with her ex to stop the hit she accidentally put on him after he dumped her. It could've easily turned into a "quirky" film, but thankfully didn't. I enjoyed it a lot more than I thought I would. Was originally planning on slipping off halfway through because I really didn't want to miss even a little bit of 20,000 days, the one movie I really wanted see (it was playing at a different venue and the movies at this venue were running behind time due to technical issues). But, it drew me in, and though I walked to the door before the final act, I ended up watching until the very last frame (standing by the door).

20,000 Days on Earth - Semi-fictional account of Nick Cave's 20,000th day on earth. I'm a fan of the man and his band, so I was really looking forward to this one. It did not disappoint. The makers are visual artists making their film debut, and it showed. Not the debut part, the visual artistry part. Very different from the other documentaries (actually, they were all quite different from each other - kudos to the film selection team), but just as interesting as all the rest. Quite the perfect end for a lovely festival. One that I'll be sure not to miss from here on out.

Other (non-film) highlights were - An incredible double bass performance in the art gallery by James Ilgenfritz; a rocking performance by the KC band Monta At Odds, with some really cool visual projections by Barry Anderson; a screening of Wizard of Oz synced with The Dark Side of the Moon and Kid A, which was a wee bit half-assed with some parts that went completely quiet, including about 5-10 minutes of the climax (I tried to think of some song/piece that would work well with that part and play it on my phone. Only song I could come up with was Alisha's Attic - I am, I feel - because when Dorothy clicks her heels together that part of the song "Clicked my heels together three times.." started playing in my head - but the stupid youtube app on my phone took too long to load and then insisted on playing an ad first and by then the movie ended already :( - Oh well)

I also sneaked off to KC Saturday evening for an amazing collab performance of Helen Gillet's music choreographed by Owen/Cox Dance Group called Memory Palace. But that deserves its own post, if/when I can get to it.

Here's a bit of the Monta At Odds performance

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